Tag Archives: fitness

Active Kids Reap Life-Long Benefits

I’ll be honest. I am a fan of Title IX legislation. I benefitted from it as a teenager, participating in small-scale sports of cross-country and track. Certainly without the push to equalize opportunites for girls and boys, there would not have been funding for the sports I loved. And my interest in fitness has obviously carried over into adulthood, becoming an integral part of who I am.

Several years ago, the New York Times published an article about the benefits of participating in sports as youths. The article cites a study that rigorously assessed the socio-economic backgrounds of youths across the US and linked their success to participation in organized sports. Sure, we have long touted the intangible benefits of being part of a sports team– character building, teamwork, and feeling part of a something larger than the individual– but the study takes things a step further to demonstrate that kids who participate in sports also go on to higher education, have fewer incidences of negative life-changing events like drug use or teen pregnancy, and higher levels of meaningful employment.

It was timely for me to re-read this article, as I volunteered recently in my son’s elementary PE class. Not only was I impressed by the coach’s arsenal of activities to keep the kids moving, but he worked hard to really educate the children at the same time. For example, rather than just playing a simple game of tag, the kids played “muscle group tag”: when a child was tagged (by me or the other parent volunteer), s/he had to freeze and take a pose to show off a particular muscle group. To be unfrozen and join the game again, a classmate had to stop in front of the frozen child, make the same pose, and name the muscle group the frozen child was demonstrating. In the course of the 6-8 minutes the kids played the game, there were shouts of biceps, triceps, pectoralis, quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus. What a great way to get kids moving, teach them about their bodies, and have a blast while doing it.

As a personal trainer, I know that having fun with fitness is the key to adhering to an exercise program. I applaud our school’s coach– and the thousands of others like him around the country– who work hard every day to educate and encourage our children to a fit lifestyle.  With news reports that frequently remind us that recess and PE are being slashed from the school day, it’s important for parents to know what is happening at their child’s school.  Does your child’s PE program have an Open Door policy?  Encourage one!

After 45 minutes of fun-filled, fast-paced physical education the kids recited a poem (with motions, of course) in unison. It was awesome to hear and watch 22 kids so enthusiastically deliver a lesson that we can all benefit from, whether our fitness journey started as a child, a teen, or an adult:

Eat right. Stay fit.

Work hard. Never quit!

Brain wise. Safety smart.

Live strong for a healthy heart!

The Beauty of Simplicity

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I’m going to give it to you straight: I’m old school.

No fancy equipment.

No GPS-tracking.

No headphones.

Just shoes.

For me, it’s the simplicity of running that is so appealing.

As a lifelong runner, I got hooked on the sport long before technology came along to ‘improve’ it.  When I started racing, finish order was determined by giving each runner a sequentially-numbered popsicle stick as they came through the chute, then a person with a clipboard taking the stick and asking for the runner’s name.  Seriously.  In bigger races, volunteers would pull tags off the bottom of number bibs and keep them in finisher order to match up later.  I even ran my first marathon before chip timing.

But it’s not (only) old lady crotcheyness that keeps me running without all the newfangled gadgetry.  Ditching the crutches of technology can improve your running.  Your body will run at its natural pace, and your brain will learn what number to assign to that pace.  Running without your GPS—or even a watch—forces you to pay attention to your body and your effort level.  You are able to tune in to yourself without the external chatter of your technology telling you how you should be feeling.  My PR at 10K was run on a course with no mile markers or split times; had I known how fast I was going, I would have slowed down because “I can’t run that fast!”

I’m also old school in tracking my training.  I still log my runs on paper, despite reviewing and recommending fitness and tracking apps to clients on a weekly basis.  I take comfort in going back through my logs—over 20 years of them at this point—and seeing my handwriting, reading the comments, and revisiting the feelings I had as I moved through the highs and lows of my life.  Running is therapy, and my log books are the journals demonstrate my progress.

There’s also a democracy of running that keeps me loyal to the sport.  How many other sports have elite athletes and regular folks competing in the same event on the same course (field, court, pitch) at the same time?  To be able to participate in such a unifying way is quite remarkable in our increasingly-stratified society.  And when I remember that I can strip away everything but me and the movement, the simplicity and purity of running is real joy.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Need Some New Year’s Inspiration?

I’ve long-held the belief that just because your friend/spouse/parent loves to run/swim/play basketball/go hiking/lift weights, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your thing.

I’ve also long-held the belief that there is some form of exercise for everyone.

And here’s the beautiful part: your figuring out what you love to do and how your body wants to move is a wonderful journey.

Some people know instinctively that they love to play team sports.  Others might try a pick-up game of soccer and find out that they really enjoy the quiet of the golf course.  You may also try spinning for a year or a two, and then decide that a pilates class will challenge you in a new and different way.  There is no one path.

The only rule is that you do something that feels good and makes you feel confident in your body.  If you get to the point that you feel ‘off’ when you miss a workout, you’re on the right track!

When you find your fitness groove, it’s like magic.  For some people, it creates a lifetime habit of movement, flexibility, balance, and grace.  And sometimes it comes together most unexpectedly.

Here’s to finding your fitness groove in 2016.  May it be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Good health and great happiness to you!

You say, “Back-to-School?” I say, “Self-Care!”

Back-to-School!

Self-Care!

As a parent of three kids (ages 4, 9, and 12), I love the opportunities of summer: hanging out, playing board games, exploring new places, and doing whatever the heck we want.  But I’ve got to be honest with you; it’s a fat ton of work.  When you add in the fact that summer is my busy work season thanks to teaching swimming lessons, and I relish the idea of back-to-school as a time to tune into some self-care outlets that have been pushed aside the last few months.

  1. Exercise as its own reward- I’ve been blogging a lot recently about my running goals over the next year.  While I’m focused on my path to achieve them, I also know that I exercise because it makes me feel good….NOW.  The New York Times recently published an article linking the way people viewed exercise with their compliance to sticking with an exercise program.  In short, the more people felt they HAD to exercise, the less they actually did.  The people most compliant with a long-term exercise program were those who were most focused on exercise as a strategy for feeling good in the short term.  So while it’s great to have a goal, I’m going to enjoy the journey.
  2. Eat lunch every day– I have a bad habit of forgetting to eat lunch.  Or I eat snacks here and there, but they don’t always add up to the most nutritious combination of foods.  For me, taking care of myself by eating a high-quality lunch every day– even if it’s a hodgepodge of foods– will help me  from getting “hangry” once kids are home from school.
  3. Fire up the sewing machine– It’s been a while since I’ve sewn on a daily basis.  I miss the creativity and satisfaction of productivity that I feel when I sew.  Taking the time to indulge my sewing interests works parts of my brain that don’t get worked in my family or business life.  More brain work = happier, healthier, more whole me.
  4. Connect to Build Community– I often spend part of the first day of school making a list of people I see regularly but don’t often get to talk to.  You know the type– the parent friends who I see every day at drop-off but we don’t do more than exchange pleasantries.  These are the people I want to approach and offer to go for a walk after drop-off or meet up with over coffee 30 minutes before pick up.  By nurturing these friendships, I can help build my sense of community.
  5. Say NO!– This school year, I am room parent for two of my three kids and soccer team manager for two of my three kids.  I also volunteer teach eight hours a week at the elementary school.  I enjoy each of these roles, but I recognize that I am fully doing my part to support my kids’ educations.  Any further requests for volunteering shall be met with a polite, “Not at this time; thanks for asking!”

How can you take care of yourself this school year?  I encourage you to make a list of your own self-care strategies.  Writing them down is useful not only because you are forced to really think about how these issues affect your life, but also as a record of accountability to yourself.  By intentionally bringing balance into your life, wellness will follow.

Wishing you and yours a creative, active, stimulating, and healthy new school year!

Inca Trail: By the Senses

I turned 40 in September.  So far, forty is most certainly fabulous.  In addition to running the NYC Marathon at the beginning of November, my husband and I celebrated this milestone birthday with a trip to Peru this month.  The cornerstone of our trip was a four-day, three-night trek along the 45 kilometer classic Inca Trail, finishing at Machu Picchu.   As an architectural historian-turned-fitness trainer, this trip has been on my travel bucket list for a while.

I’ve struggled with trying to recap the trip.  Every time I sat down to write a review, it was as if my whole being was still on sensory overload.  So instead of a typical trip review, I’m going to describe the Inca Trail by the senses.

The trekking group of Alpaca Expeditions.

The trekking group of Alpaca Expeditions.

Sight:

Just a few hours into Day 1, our guide Saul asked us to step off the trail.  He asked us to link arms and close our eyes.  We then walked toward his voice, near the edge of a cliff.  It was a real trust test.  Just as I was getting really nervous, he asked us to stop, take a deep breath, and open our eyes.  In front of us was the great pre-Inca site of Patallacta, first inhabited around 500BC.  It was a transforming experience, immediately heightening the awesome reality that we were really on the Inca Trail, where people have walked, lived, traded, and built for centuries.

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Patallaqta, from the cliff edge

 

Being high up in the mountains, we were in “the cloud forest” for much of our trek.  Watching the clouds roll in, lift up, and blow through a valley was surprisingly captivating.  My favorite example of this phenomenon was when we arrived at Phuyupatamarka (“village above the clouds”) in the morning of Day 3, and our guide Saul told us that Machu Picchu mountain was across the cloud-filled valley.  He looked out and across the sky, and he said, “Let’s wait about five minutes; the clouds will lift, and you’ll get your first view of Machu Picchu mountain and Aguas Calientes.”  Sure enough, we waited and the clouds evaporated just as he said they would.  He told us the history of the site—a communication post to call across the valley to the sentries stationed on Machu Picchu mountain–and just as he finished and we set off, the clouds descended on the valley once again obscuring the view.

Village Above the Clouds-- when we arrived

Village Above the Clouds– when we arrived

Five minutes later, the clouds lifted just as Saul predicted.

Five minutes later, the clouds lifted just as Saul predicted.

On Day 3, we hiked through the rain forest and jungle.  There were a lot of beautiful butterflies, the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  But what caught my eye was this shimmery, iridescent white butterfly that had purple and yellow under its wings as it floated across the sky.  It was so perfectly magical, it almost seemed fake.

In the jungle

In the jungle

Before the trip, I was a little afraid that seeing Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate wouldn’t live up to the hype in my head.  I was wrong.  Standing there on a bright, clear morning, looking 1000 feet down at the forgotten city, I got tears in my eyes.  It was, quite literally, a breathtaking experience.

From Inti Punku (Sun Gate)-- the original access point to Machu Picchu

From Inti Punku (Sun Gate)– the original access point to Machu Picchu

The stars.  One of the reasons I wanted to hike the Inca Trail was because I wanted to really escape and surround myself in the natural world.  I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a wide night sky.  We were blessed with clear weather during our trek, and the nights were positively spectacular.  Being able to see the night sky in its magnificence was a perk to waking up early (like 3:30am early) while on the trail.

Sound:

The climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass (13,829 feet) on Day 2 had the soundtrack of heavy breathing.  We would walk for 5 minutes, rest for a minute, and repeat…for two hours.  The trail itself was quite good on the climb—mostly dirt trail as a ramp with a stone step up every 10 steps or so–  but the altitude was a challenge.

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After lunch Day 2, we descended a series of stone steps for about 30 minutes before coming to a clearing.  It was so magnificent; we just stood and took it all in.  The next thing I knew, Saul had pulled out his pan flutes and was playing “Let It Be.”  Rather than being cheesy, it echoed beautifully among the mountains and filled the vastness.

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I loved listening to the chaskis (aka “porters” — Chaski is the Quechua word for “Inca runner”).  The Quechua language is one-part guttural, one-part clicks, and one-part fluid language.  As they passed us, heavily-laden with enormous packs, they’d be chatting.  The chaskis also laughed.  A lot.  It was clear that each trek brings together a community of men who enjoy each other’s company while working hard.  I admire that.

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There was a thunderstorm during lunch on Day 3.  The thunder rumbled so loudly, bouncing around the mountains.  One time there was even an extra “POP” after the thunder from atmospheric energy.  I’d say it was cool, but I was freaked out of my mind.

Having time to talk with—and listen to—John was a real treat.  After fifteen years, we had nine straight days of uninterrupted conversation, and I still love hearing his voice.  I did tell him to quit singing “I hike the Inca Trail in the morning sun” after the 1,000th time, though.

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Smell:

Coca tea—the coca plant grows in the rainforest of the Andes, and its leaves are used to combat everything from nausea to headaches.  As such, the leaves are steeped in hot water to be used as a tea to combat (or help prevent) altitude sickness.  It tastes fine, but OMG the smell.  Nasty.  I found that if I exhaled while sipping the tea I could drink it fine.  But if I forgot, the smell turned my stomach.

Popcorn.  You’re smelling it right now, aren’t you?  Imagine coming in to camp after 8 hours of hiking and smelling popcorn.  Pure awesome.

We had a 10 minute rain shower as we sat on the top of Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2.  As we descended the million uneven, slippery stone steps down the backside of the pass, the air had that freshly scrubbed clean smell.  Maybe it was just the altitude, but I couldn’t get enough of it.

Descending the back side of Dead Woman's Pass

Descending the back side of Dead Woman’s Pass

Llamas are endearing to watch.  But they stink. A lot.

Llama at Intipata

Llama at Intipata

Llama at Winay Wayna (Forever Young)

Llama at Winay Wayna (Forever Young)

Free advice: If you’re going to trek the Inca Trail, choose a tour company that has its own toilet.  Just trust me on this one.

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Touch:

The best part of hiking the Inca Trail is getting to explore the many Inca archaeological sites along the way to Machu Picchu.  At these sites, we were given a history by Saul, then we were free to wander around, see the Inca’s handiwork up close, and examine the constructions.  The smoothness of the precise Inca stonework is well-known.  But to run your fingers across it and realize it was made by hand provides connection and meaning on a very human level.

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Sayaqmarka (“steep-place town”) at the junction of three valleys

 

Exploring Sayaqmarka

Exploring Sayaqmarka

Hand-hewn cornerstone at Sayaqmarka, probably  originally used to anchor a roof structure

Hand-hewn cornerstone at Sayaqmarka, probably originally used to anchor a roof structure

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of using hiking poles on the trek.  The grip of the poles in my hands not only helped take some of the work of the challenging 45K hike out of my legs, but it gave me confidence when going down the steep stone steps.  So many times I commented how glad I was to have a firm grip on the poles.

Descending the steep steps at Intipata

Descending the steep steps at Intipata

The bowl of warm water that our chaskis brought to our tent each morning and night was wonderfully refreshing.  Washing my face with warm water was a simple pleasure for which I was grateful.  We also had water to wash hands before meals.

On the narrow ledge at Winay Wayna campsite (night 3)

On the narrow ledge at Winay Wayna campsite (night 3)

The weather is extremely varied along the trail.  In the course of one day, I would wear a short sleeve shirt with either a long sleeve shirt over it or arm warmers.  Sometimes I’d throw on my fleece jacket, too.  My headwear alternated between my running hat and my running skullcap (with earflaps).  Gloves went on and came off multiple times a day.  Feeling the weather change as we hiked through several microclimates every day heightened my appreciation of the physical nature of our journey.

Day 2, morning, on the ascent of Dead Woman's Pass

Day 2, morning, on the ascent of Dead Woman’s Pass

Day 2, at Runkuraquay, on the way up the second pass

Day 2, at Runkuraquay, on the way up the second pass

Let’s face it. Camping isn’t really comfortable.  John had never camped a night in his life before this trip.  Muscle soreness from hiking + aches and pains from sleeping on the ground = A clear reminder that we’re not 20 anymore.  But the views from the tent were priceless.

Out of the tent, looking right at Machu Picchu mountain.

Out of the tent, looking right at Machu Picchu mountain.

 

Taste:

Do you like eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast?  Or do you prefer pancakes?  Hot chocolate, tea, or coffee?  We had all of these things, each and every morning.  If none of that appeals to you, stick around for lunch and dinner, where each meal included some kind of chicken, some kind of fish, two vegetarian dishes, yucca and potatoes, and other foods I can’t even remember.  So.Much.Good.Food.  All while camping.

Dinner options

Dinner options

I never knew Peru had such awesome soups.  Each of our dinners began with a soup course, and each soup was better than the last. Maybe it was the warmth of the soup, or maybe it was the varied but always fresh flavors, but MAN that soup was good.  We had a professional chef as part of our eight-person tour group, and he even commented that the soups were outstanding.

Soup's on!

Soup’s on!

To celebrate our three days of hard hiking, the chef steam baked a cake for us on the last evening.  We shared it with the chaskis, savoring the satisfaction of hard physical work and delicious cake—two of my favorite things!

Saul and two of our twelve chaskis

Saul and two of our twelve chaskis

In the end, there’s so much I’m leaving out of this review.  The trip lived up to–and exceed– expectations in so many ways.  Ironically, the only tiniest bit of disappointment was Machu Picchu itself.  After three days of exploring ruins like this:

Practically deserted Intipata, free to explore as we wished

Practically deserted Intipata, free to explore as we wished

…it was really hard to a) follow a prescribed path around the site and b) share it with 3000 other people.  As such, if you have interest in going to Machu Picchu, I encourage you to hike the Inca Trail.  You’ll gain an incredible appreciation for the Inca people and culture as a whole, thus better contextualizing your understanding of Machu Picchu itself.  Even better, you’ll have had the experience of so many other Inca sites, exploring them as you wish, and completing the trek is terrifically satisfying.

I concur with our tour operator, the fabulous Alpaca Expeditions, whose motto is “the journey is the destination.”

 

 

 

 

Marathon Training Plan Review: Run Less Run Faster

This is the second post in a series of reviews of marathon training programs.  Each review is based on my experience and opinions.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) experts Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss– with the backing of the folks at Runner’s World– have put together a 3-run-a-week training program in their book Run Less Run Faster.

Now, before you go thinking that I’m just going to regurgitate the information from last week’s post about Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training, I am not.  While both plans center around three quality runs and cross-training, their differences are significant.

The Basics

The FIRST plan is described as 3PLUS2: three quality runs per week and two days of cross training.  The three runs are track repeats, a tempo run, and a long run.  There are multiple pace charts throughout the book, and the program is specific about what pace each of these three runs is completed– and it changes weekly as the program progresses.  The cross training component of the plan is well-explained as essential, and swimming, cycling, and rowing are offered as options.

The Differentiator

The FIRST plan is the most specific, customizable mass-market plan I have ever come across. The book provides training plans for all 16 Boston Marathon qualifying times (3:05 to 5:25), which allows the majority of marathoners to find a plan that will work for their current fitness level. In addition to the discreet pace charts in the book, there is a FIRST app that can create a personalized training plan in seconds (for $2.99).  The idea is that by following specific paces for each run every week of the program, you know you can reach your goal.

Furthermore, the cross training component of the 3PLUS2 plan is well-laid out.  The book includes specific workout charts for cycling, swimming, or rowing for the entire 16-week training plan.

For those who like to use a GPS watch while they run, the book includes a section about how to preset a Garmin for all of the workouts in the plan.  While I’m not a Garmin wearer, I know that I’m in the minority– a lot of people will find this section particularly useful.

The Pros

Three hard runs a week plus two days of cross training is ideal for a balanced body. I liked that the authors even discussed the merits of varying the cross training activities, explaining how each could contribute to overall fitness and running success.

The program charts are easy to read, and with all of the options for pace (by following the BQ charts), there’s something here that will work for almost everyone.

The book includes several sections of Q&A about everything from running basics to issues specific to the FIRST plan.  I thought these FAQs were a good way to distill a of of information clearly and concisely.  Also, there were a lot of success story letters from FIRST followers, and I liked the human “feel good” aspect of their inclusion.

The Cons

One downside to running such a pace-specific plan is that it can put a lot of pressure on the runner.  What happens if I’m 2 seconds off pace?  10 seconds?  What happens if I’m slow two runs in a row?  Ugh.  You can feel the pressure mounting, and in something that is supposed to be fun (or at least stress-relieving), this plan doesn’t leave much room for a purely recreational runner.

My greatest pause regarding the FIRST plan comes from the FIVE 20-milers.  If these are to be completed at the paces set out, even a sub-4 hour runner would be logging five long runs of nearly 3 1/2 hours.  This seems excessive to me, especially for a plan that espouses injury prevention as one of its hallmarks.

Also, the book tries a bit too hard to be all things marathoning.  There are very short chapters devoted to common injuries and nutrition and trail running/ultras.  I didn’t feel like these chapters added anything to the book, and in a novice they might open up a lot more questions and concerns than they answer.

The Bottom Line

If a BQ is what you’re after, this is the plan for you.  The FIRST plan, while tough because of all the at-pace (or faster) running and the numerous near-goal pace 20 milers, will likely get you to Hopkinton.

If you’re a novice marathoner who enjoys cross training, this plan will allow you to get trained for the distance while still allowing you to participate in your other fitness activities.

 

Summer Workout Options

It’s June.  When did that happen?

If you’re in a bit of a panic state (NOT THAT I AM, PROMISE!) about summer coming, having the kids around more, and still trying to keep fit, read on.

What are your stumbling blocks to exercising during the summer?

  • Kids at home
  • Kids going to multiple camps/activities so you’re in the car all day?
  • Too hot
  • Interrupted by vacations

If you have kids at home, why not include them in your exercise plans?  Play soccer in the backyard, invent a game that will keep you all moving, or take them to a playground where you can use the equipment to exercise.

If you’re driving the mom taxi all summer, see where you can find just 10 minutes of time a few times a day.  You can go for a walk, step up and down a curb in a parking lot, or even do a 10-minute cardio blast (that’s from my Balance Virtual Bootcamp)…all without any special equipment.

Too hot where you are? I know the feeling!  Check out my rundown of Five Ways to Beat the Heat and keep exercising through the summer.

Are your workouts interrupted by going on vacation?  I know how that goes, too.  But with a little planning ahead, you can get some workouts on your calendar before you leave.  Giving yourself this accountability tool may be the motivation you need to keep at it while you’re away.  Also, make a list of rules before you leave so you know you have room to relax and enjoy while you’re on vacation, too.  Even if your summer vacation is a staycation, setting guidelines can keep you on your path to wellness.

And if you do happen to be one of those people who is in a bit of a panic about summer coming, why don’t you round up a friend or two and go on a walk.  You can talk through some survival strategies and even set up a time to walk again.  Having a friend along always makes life better.

 

Good health and great happiness to you!